Beyond Vassar

Martin Smith ’80 Hits the Road to End Cancer

By Annie Massey '13

Martin Smith ’80 Hits the Road to End Cancer. The alumnus spent two months this past summer on his bike, riding from Durham, NC, to Los Angeles, CA.

This wasn’t just any cross-country jaunt. Along the way, he raised money for cancer research and promoted awareness of the goal to find a cure for cancer in our lifetime.

The desire to ride from coast to coast first captured Smith’s interest 30 years ago, after he biked 100 miles across Connecticut, where he was living at the time. Soon, though, his cross-country cycling goal met with some serious roadblocks. At the age of 30, Smith was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Then, at 48, he was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Exhaustion from consultations with doctors and chemotherapy made biking across the country seem too far flung a goal. Nonetheless, Smith sustained an extraordinarily positive outlook through his ordeal. And when it came down to taking the journey across the continent, he jokes that “being aged 52 presented more challenges than having cancer.”

In retrospect, Smith says, the timing was just right for the trip. “When I was fresh out of Vassar I had the energy and muscles to make this journey, but I lacked the mental toughness, business experience, and resources. Only after 30 years creating businesses and managing stuff [read: multimillion dollar e-commerce websites] could I pull off the logistics required by such a massive undertaking. I kept waiting for the perfect moment, until I realized this is the perfect moment and it was time to go now.”

His not-for-profit bike ride and campaign was dubbed Martin’s Ride. As he pedaled across the nation, Smith blogged, raised awareness, and garnered funding for cancer research. The money he raised will be donated to the Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center in Durham, North Carolina, whose careful medical attention facilitated Smith’s recovery, ultimately allowing him to put his ride in motion. 

Martin’s Ride was “three journeys wrapped into one,” as Smith describes it, “a physical 2,700 mile journey on a bicycle, a spiritual inward journey, and also a community journey.” The ride generated a base of energetic supporters who encouraged and publicized Smith’s goal; some even signed up to bike in front of him, cutting wind resistance for a leg of the journey. 

Vassar, as a community, lent support to Smith, too. In mid-June, before Martin’s Ride began, alumnae/i were asked to volunteer space for parking the RV that drove behind Smith’s bike, transporting two interns and equipment. Twenty-one alums, whose graduation years range from 1945 to 2006, responded to the request. Some offered up their driveways at times they’d be away, and one enthusiastic alumna even volunteered the use of her swimming pool. 

Smith’s dream is on a roll, and his formidable fundraising efforts may mean we’ll live to see cancer hit the road. 

—Annie Massey ’13

For more on Smith’s cross-country trek, visit